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Sowa basics

Good day
Ran awê /
Ran adwus

Good night
Bông awê /
Bông adwus

OK / It's just fine
Awê ganek /
Adwus ganek

Thank you
(Ki) mwa barêw



What's your name?
Sem ne sinan?

My name is...
Sek ne...

I am from...
Nô azô ze...

Where are you going?
(Ki) mwa ba sawô(t)?

Where have you come from?
Ti maê sawô(t)?

Come here!
Maê igenê!

Go away!
Suk met!

I would like...
Mwi doonê...

one, two, three
tuwal/izuwal, iru, izôl

It's finished

I don't know
Atna mwi kla

I don't understand
Atna mwi rong pwese

Sowa language

Sowa is an extinct language of south-central Pentecost. Its last speakers lived at a time when the local population had been devastated by introduced diseases, leaving so few people in some communities that men there were forced to take wives from far afield, which resulted in large numbers of Apma-speaking women marrying into the Sowa area. Meanwhile, the few Sowa-speaking women who remained were married out to other communities, where they abandoned their native language. The last fluent Sowa speaker died in 2000. Many people in the former Sowa area view the language as part of their cultural heritage and lament its loss, and several local enthusiasts dream of reviving it.

On the west coast, Melsisii River formed Sowa's northern boundary with Apma, and a creek near Levizendam (there is disagreement about exactly which one) formed its southern boundary with Ske. The language's area extended across the island to parallel areas on the east coast. Sowa was very closely related to Ske language, and the two are reported to have been mutually intelligible.

The only linguist to take an interest in Sowa while the language was still alive was David Walsh, who compiled a vocabulary list in 1969. This provided the source for a word list in Darrell Tryon's 1976 survey of New Hebrides Languages. David Walsh's research was done mainly through the late John Bule Seesee of Bwaravet.

Local people, realising that their language was in danger of disappearing without trace, made several attempts to write it down. Chief Adam Bulesisbwat of Lesuubelakan has short notes on Sowa that he made prior to the death of his father, a native Sowa speaker. Another speaker at Lesuubelakan made notes on Sowa language but found these destroyed when his house flooded. Chief Isaiah Tabi Vahka of Waterfall Village led an effort to compile book of "First thoughts in our language which is Sowa", Tamzon Nan Dutmekan Lon Dolod Ne Sowa, which contained about 900 words and phrases recalled in Sowa by local people, with Apma translations. This book was completed in 2006. Unfortunately, these local efforts to write down Sowa language were marred by inconsistent spelling, and much of the ‘Sowa’ they contained was clearly corrupted by Apma and Ske.

By putting together the recollections of numerous local people, and David Walsh's notes, it is possible to reconstruct the basics of Sowa vocabulary, and to deduce much about the nature of the language. However, certain questions about the grammar and phonology of the language remain unanswered, and a fully authentic reconstruction of Sowa language will probably never be possible.

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© Andrew Gray, 2010